This is the travelblog of Cyril Ducau and Niccolo Manno on their adventure from London (Cyril), Munich (Niccolo) to Hong Kong on motorbikes.
It took us short of 3 months to do 20,000km on bikes, trains and planes. We crossed the following countries together:

Austria - Italy - Slovenia - Croatia - Serbia - Bulgaria - Turkey - Georgia - Azerbaijan - Turkmenistan - Uzbekistan - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Russia - Mongolia - China - Hong Kong

On this site you will find some info on both of us, our bikes, some of our friendly helpers in Hong Kong and London and loads of pictures on our trip. 

Latest top picture

Latest top picture
Thanks for watching our blog - Enjoy as we did it!

Our path

Our path
Click picture to download Google Earth kmz file !

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Waiting for the right meteo window to head for Mongolia

We are currently in Gorno Altaisk, a small town at the beginning of the Altai mountain range and are waiting for the weather conditions to soften a bit before heading towards Mongolia. Snow storm this morning and pretty chilly temperatures...

We should be leaving Gorno tomorrow and reach the Mongolian border 2/3 days later.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Russia here we are

We are now in Barnaul, a quiet mid-sized Russian city. The weather is so far so good, but much colder than Kazakhstan.
We arrived 2 days ago in Russia after waiting 2h30mins at the border...the Russian side took us quite a long time (for the insurance). They wanted us to pay in Roubles, which we didn't have but there wasn't any exchange capabilities...I suggested to sleep at the border to see how they would react. In the end they took our USD but don't count on it (for all future bikers, have some roubles with you!).

There is a big gap between Russia and Kazakhstan. The people here are much more European and white. The countryside is much more developped than in the empty steppes of Kazakhstan. The roads are much better here. Oh and they don't speak any English in this part of Russia.

We are heading towards the mountain range Altai in the next days before entering Mongolia.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Semey - North Kazakhstan - on our way to Russia

We just arrived in Semey - a medium-sized town on the north east corner of Kazakhstan closed to the Russian border which also used to be home of the former Soviet Union nuclear weapon testing center...

This is a pretty grim place but after 3 days across the steppe, it feels good to finally see a town with streets, shops and restaurants. Since we left Almaty, the landscape was very flat with little to no agriculture apart from a few apple trees and wild horses here and there. We were lucky with the weather and had a pleasant ride despite the heavy mileage (about 400km/day on uneven roads).

I ran out of petrol for the first time about 30km short of Semey and we had to transfer a few liters from Nico's bike. A good test before Mongolia but it tastes horrible - even worst than some of the outdated lamb shashlik we had so far!

If everything goes along plan, we will get into Russia this afternoon and reach Barnaul by tomorrow. We are now both thinking hard at what to do with China... everybody we meet is telling us that entering the country with our bikes will be very very challenging - these days even more than usual. We might very well need a B plan (if me make it across Mongolia).


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Monday, April 21, 2008

Video #4 - Struggling through the sand

video

This was back in Uzbekistan... unlikely to be able to post more of these videos until the end of the trip but we will have plenty in stock for those who are interested to watch a few on our return.

Btw - among the biker/traveller community reading this blog: if you have a good tip on how to ship our bikes from Mongolia back to Europe or HongKong, please shout ! ideally post a comment on the blog with your email details - Thx !

Video #3 - our hosts in Arslanbob

video

Video #2 - just for fun...

video

Practical details

A quick one to let you know some practical details and to answer some comments:
- Amy, we do shower now and then and with real shampoo that I bought before leaving (and there still is some in the bottle)...shows you how often this is... We do brush our teeths everyday though.
- A big thank you to Cyril for posting our tracks so that all can follow our route.

Today we will be leaving Almaty to drive North in the steppe/desert. Before we do that though, I will send home a pack of things that we won't need (air filter, oil filter, some other stuff, books etc...)

See you soon and don't stress out in these markets.

Video #1

Thanks so much to the MS team for this amazing present (the videocam!)

video

Almaty

Today was a good day as we had a day with little to no riding in Almaty.
A little since we had to go to get Cyril's motorbike to Leonid (who owns a bike shop) in order to get it serviced and this involved coping with Almaty's horrible traffic. We will get it back tomorrow noon. In the meantime, I got my bike cleaned (it really needed it), checked the air filter (still in very good condition) and straightened my boxes (since I fell so many times in the snow in the Karakara valley). Almaty is a very pleasant BIG city and it feels good to be such a modern place. Quite unusual as well after so much time in the wilderness.

We met David Berghof, in charge of Stantours. A really good guy with quite a lot of knowledge on the region and who helped us with some visas and info. We had a chat on our likelyhood on entering China with our bikes and David's answer was: No way they let you in, in particular not in current times! Hmmmm, that obviously isn't good news, so we will still try it in Mongolia and if they indeed don't let us in, we will use Plan B or Plan C. This involves either going to Russia or shipping the bikes from Mongolia and then doing our china trip with buses or trains. Anyhow, let's cross the bridge when we get there.

For the bikers who watch this blog, we've posted the contact details of Leonid in the Kazakh photo album. I will take my GPS with me tomorrow and post the coordinates as well.

We should be off and roling again tomorrow afternoon towards the north of Kazakhstan.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kazakhstan - Borat here we are !

We entered Kazakhstan late yesterady evening after what was our most challenging riding day so far.

It all started very nicely when we left Karakol in the morning to explore the nice landscapes around - the best weather conditions we had so far in Kyrgyzstan, amazing scenery and very decent roads. But all started to go bad when we decided to take the San Tash mountain pass to reach the Kazakh border. It was only about 2,200m high but the road was in very poor conditions and... still unopened since the winter. Patch of ice, mud and finally a lot of snow on the road. We reluctently had to go back only 500m away from reaching a bigger track (see pictures below).

This forced us to a 150km ride around the Karkara valley on pretty poor roads and we reached the border only by night fall (and temperatures of -4C). Once the border crossed, it was already dark and we had to stop and camp by the side of the road and suffered a bit from the cold during the night...

But in Kazakhstan so far - all is good. Warm temperature, very nice scenery of the Charyn valley and... high speed internet in Almaty. We passed below 1,500m for the first time in about 10 days and enjoyed more than 15 degrees today.
Our bike freezing (so were we...)
(friendly border crossing - for once !)
Very very cold camping - melting ice to ccok
The Charyn valley
The Charyn valley
Around Karakol
People queuing at the petrol station
Stuck in the mud
Forced to go back
Finally the border after a very long ride...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wonderful Kyrgyzstan - We are in love


On the way to Issyk Kol


Lake Issyk Kol


Lake Issyk Kol


Bel Ata Pass at 3176m


Camping at 2440m


Suusammyr valley


It is so damm cold


A minor accident on the road to the snowed Kyzart pass


A major accident on the way to toktogul reservoir


Toktogul reservoir



(Arslanbob)

Hi guys, it was quite a long time since our last blog update, but hey, we didn't find any internet cafes and when we found one it was dial-up modem speed, so forget it.

We are now in Karakkol, a city on the Eastern shores of the Issyk-Kul lake. The lake is the third biggest lake in the world and indeed it is quite sizeable but the most impressive attribute is that it is surrounded by high mountain peaks of 4,000m-5,000m.

Let's start with first things first. Kyrgyzstan has 5 million inhabitants and the country is 94% above 1,000m and 80% above 2,000m..you get the picture?

We arrived in Osh several days ago and unfortunately for us we spent an unusually cold week (for this season) in Kyrgyzstan. We had temperatures ranging from -3 to +14 degrees celcius. It is so freaking cold that we have now all our clothes on. The weather was either very windy (Bora or Mistrak like), rainy, snowy...we had it all, including 2 days only of sunshine. This is so frustrating in particular since it is a random week where the weather is so bad. Apparently 1 week ago, it was more like 2-0 degrees celcius and beautiful sunshine!

We still love it here as the little we could see is more than impressive and beautiful. Imagine all the hidden stuff we couldn't reach because of closed passes etc... and it probably becomes the highlight of the trip so far. The people are very friendly and we stayed most of the time in homestays, a very good system that Kyrgyzstan has set-up.

After Osh we moved to Arslanbob which boast the largest Walnut tree forest (weird hey!) just below a 4,400m peak. We did a small treck up part of the mountain to some high summer pastures and we really loved it. We stayed at Abdullahanjun's family, really a great place to be. I was sick on the second day, so in the end we stayed 3 days there.

We then moved-on under the pouring rain on the main road to the capital (the only one that was the most likely not to have too much snow) and discovered Toktogul reservoir, a very nice high alltitude lake. After the lake, we climbed to the highest point on our journey so far, the Bel Ata Pass at 3,176m. Amazing to be there will all the snow and the peaks so much higher than you. We encountered there a German couple (Bettina and Stefan) that was cycling from Mongolia to Germany for 10,000km during a full year and who started in August of last year. We camped together at 2,440m and whilst cold, we had an excellent night only to discover the next morning that it had snowed.

We then pressed on into the Suummayir valley, a gorgeous day with super mountains all around us. Whilst it is a valley, it is still at +2,000m. We wanted to reach the lake  Song Kol, apparently a beautiful spot in Central Kyrgyzstan at 3,000m but forget it, there was so much snow (and it snowed whilst we were riding on the Kyzar passs (2.,664).I am still glad we went on this road (actually a track + mud) as it was a good test for Mongolia.

So instead of going up Song Kol we reached lake Issyk Kol with strong winds where we are now.

Tomorrow we will drive close to the Kazakh border and cross it the day after to reach Almaty.

We have updated all the Kyrgyz pictues, you'll love them.

Oh by the way, regarding washing...hmm, we haven't had a shower for the last 6 days. We asked our hosts everynight if they had a shower and they have all replied immediately with a No of course. But tonight's the night, we found a place with a shower!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Entered into Kyrgyzstan and its outdoor wonders

Bye-Bye Uzbekistan; it was clearly an highlight of our trip so far – especially for its amazing historical heritage.
We therefore left the Fergana valley in Uzbekistan yesterday to enter Kyrgyzstan and its mountains. The border crossing was fairly uneventful – at least compared to what we had been used to so far. We spent the night in Osh – a typical Central Asian border town with a lot of trading activities and many small businesses along the road. This is also the 2nd largest city in the country, has one of the very few remaining standing statute of Lenine and it hosts the largest bazaar of Central Asia. Quite impressive – all sort of people from the mountains and valleys around (Uzbeks, Tadjiks and Kirgzks) selling their products in one massive mess spreading to all the streets around. Cars and trolleys coming and going in all directions with anything from fresh meat to traditional hats.
Our first impression of Kyrgyzstan is very positive: extremely friendly and welcoming people, a lot of different faces, the food seem to vary a little bit (getting a bit sick of the mouton meat…) and we both look forward to discover the high mountains that are known to host some of the most impressive landscapes of the region.

With the mountains should come back some of the riding challenges and the road are said to be in pretty poor conditions especially at this time of the year (Thanks again Chopat !). We should be at above 2,000m for most of the time over the next few days and will have to cross mountain pass above 4,000m (snow well expected). So far so good – the bikes are holding up very well and there is little technical problem to report.

Internet connection is likely to be non-existent in mountains and so you will have to wait for a few days for the next pictures and stories. We are hoping to stay with nomads and experience the infamous ‘yurt’ stay.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SOS CHILDREN VILLAGE


In Tashkent, I had the time to visit SOS Children Village. It is a great charitable organisation that was founded in Austria and is active in a lot of countries in the world. They help children with multiple backgrounds and give them a family and much needed love.


SOS Children Village in Tashkent is a small village that was built according to EU standards that houses children with an age up to 17. They currently have 99 children and are always looking to expand. Each house hosts 7 children and an SOS mother (what a job!). They also have an onsite kindergarden for childrens within the SOS village and for the surrounding villages.



It really doesn't cost much to adopt a children, or at least to help them with a small donation while it gives the children a much needed sponsor for higher education which most of them are keen on.

Please be generous and go onto the SOS children village website (link on the right of the blog) and donate what you can.

Thanks


Cyril and Niccolo



A BIG THANK YOU to the team there for showing me around, in particular for Sayora that stayed with me translating until late.

(Sayora)

(SOS children village Uzbekistan administrative staff)

Last days in Uzbekistan

Maddy left us 2 days ago. It was quite emotional for both Cyril and Maddy but don't worry Maddy, I will take great care of Cyril...as soon as you left, hop in the tent...he won' miss you. Just kidding, when you left we headed for the Chimgan valley and discovered a beautiful scenery with high mountains around this green/blue coloured reservoir.
We had decided the night before that we won't go to Tajikistan as we talked to their embassy and they indicated the mountain passes we intended to take to reach the pamir highway (one of the highest roads in the world (with a pass at 4,600m) would be closed. We wanted to try it to see for ourselves but the issue was we only have a 1 entry Uzbek visa so couldn't try Tajikistan and go back if not feasible...we were quite sad, but hey, we'll stay longer in Kyrgistan.

Another quick story one for Tashkent. We have a bike to bike system and since the start I am having trouble with a button that lets me speak. I shouted at the company that sold them to me and they sent me a replacement. I got the replacement (thanks Maddy) only to find out that it didn't work either! I can't believe they didn't check it before sending it out...Anyhow, the cool story is that I tried to find one in Tashkent and nobody had a similar button until I found a guy on the street, that said he might have one but in metal (I don't care as long as it works), so I go with him to his old GAS car (old Russian model) and he points to a button on his dashboard. As I say yes, he quickly dismount it from his car and gives it to me! Good old (30yrs+) button still works perfectly. One thing the soviet did well, do things that last forever.
(Russian and UK style of bike to bike buttons)

We stayed overnight in the Chimgan valley next to a farm house. We had good fun with the farmers and their childrens. After staying in the Chimgan valley we headed back towards Tashkent to reach the Fergana valley where we are now.

In order to reach the Fergana valley we had to climb a mountain pass of 2,178m, the highest on our journey so far. It was an incredible sight, but we couldn't take any pictures as the entire area was a military area...sorry.

We staying in Kokand yesterday night. Kokand was the centre of a Khanate in the 18 century. Nothing major remains from that period apart from busy streets and part of the old Khan palace which we will visit today. In addition, there are 2 further sights, some nice Soviet buildings that were built before they turned ugly (I kid you not!) and the bathrooms in the hotel Kokand where we slept.


(Prime camping spot in the Chimgan valley)


(Amazing scenery in the Chimgan valley)


(Family we stayed with in the Chimgan valley)


(Leaving Tashkent with Michel and his tricycle - Good Luck!)

(Kokand hotel bathrooms)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Samarkand to Tashkent

After a pleasant evening with fellow travellers, we left Samarkand to Tashkent. On the way, after our now traditional shashlik stop (grilled lamb), we found a garage that would help us change Niccolo's tyres for about US$1.




The ride took us through very nice landscapes and unlike the previous day, the weather was very pleasant with about 20 degrees and some sun. Oddly enough, the main highway is now literally cut by the border with Kazakhstan and we had to get around and add a good 60km to our journey.

We failed to find good accomodation in Tashkent and were a bit disturbed by loud music and noise from the drunken owner and its friends most of the night. However, we met with Michel, a French guy who put our trip to shame... he is currently going for a 7-year round the world trip on a seated bicycle. Chef - an idea for you?

Visiting Tashkent today, we were slightly disappointed after the wonderful historical monuments of the previous days. Pretty much a Soviet town with wide boulevards and a few grand palaces. The old town bazar was very lively though and by far the largest we had seen so far.

Sad to say but the good news is that there are several western style restaurants in town and we went for a nice pizza yesterday night... Niccolo was a happy man !

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cultural highlights - Bukhara and Samarkand

After having spent 2 nights in Bukhara, we are now in rainy Samarkand. After 2 weeks of sun and warmth, the rains comes again.
After a month of riding with little interruption, it felt good to have a day-off biking, even for me who simply loves starting the engine and ride. Even though we were riding few kms a day in the last few days, we simply were tired of the last month and needed a break.

On the road to Bukhara my rear mudguard broke and fell off. Nothing to worry about as I don't really need it, but weird as I was driving on tarmac...it took quite a beating on the last day of Turkmenistan though.

Where to start on Bukhara and Samarkand....hmmm, let me start with Khiva. Among the 3 cities Khiva is still my favourite as the old city is preserved (but lacks the buzz of a real Uzbek city). Samarkand has a majestic Registan (a square) with 3 huge and beautiful Medressas (schools) , one of them from the 14 century, within a big city and Bukhara is a bit of an in-between Khiva and Samarkand (smaller attractions but a city centre which is better preserved).
(Bukhara)

(Maddy and Nicco in Samarkand)


Cyril mentioned, can you believe they built these wonderful schools (rather universities at the time) whilst we were building fortresses in Europe? Ok, we did have the arts, the churches etc...and believe me I love our history but it feels great to see these ancient educational buildings withstanding centuries.

(Samarkand)

We very much enjoyed the bazar of Samarkand, with plenty of attraction. I bought an Uzbek hat and cyril a jerican (to increase his range when we go to Tajikistan and Mongolia).

(Bazar)

We met an Austrian from Vienna, Peter, who left in November for a 3 year round the world trip with his car. It looks like he will be in Kazakhstand, Russia and Mongolia at the same time as us! Would be great to do a bit of riding together. Let's see, we are going to meet him up for dinner tonight.
(Peter)

We are a very worried about 2 things, the Pamir highway in Tajikistan and China.
- Will the Pamir highway be open, considering that it was the coldest winter since 40 years and there are severl passes above 3,000m and one at 4,600m (next to 7,000m+ peaks). I so wish to see the scenery there but if there is too much snow, we won't make it.
- Will we be able to enter China, in particular since they are getting so restrictive with their borders because of their troubles with Tibet and the Olympic games. If not, this would end our trip in Mongolia, something we have to consider...but we still have some time till then.

On the cost and food side, costs are actually getting higher as we get closer to Tashkent. You pay entrance fees of approx. usd3-5 per monument and food costs approx. usd3-4 per person. Sleeping is a whopping usd20-30 per person. Today, we ate in the bazar and had an excellent feel of everyday food. The basic meals are: Camca (a sort of pie with meat and oignons), Laghman (sort of noodles), Plov (rice, carrots and a bit of meat), Shashlik (skewers of all sorts) and I tried something new, Marat I think it was called (Mutton and oignons dumplings). Everything is quite tasty.

(Shashliks)

By the way, it is interesting to see that in Bukhara and Samarkand, a lot of people are actually Tajiks and not Uzbeks. The borders have been set by the Soviets and they didn't consider the cultural element deeply, hence these odd cultures within a same country.

We might not always post any pictures on blog entries as it takes quite long to download them onto blogger...sorry.

A BIG THANK YOU TO:

Cyril:
- Maddy, the head of our "London HQ", special technical and weather advisor, and because she is simply the best and has been so supportive over the last few months
- My family and friends for their understanding and moral support
- Robert Roe (alias Bob) from Motoselect Franham for preparing the bike with such good care
- Anastasia from thevisacompany for helping me deal with so much red tape
- Claudio von Planta for sharing his valuable experience on Long-way Round and Long-way Down and answering so many of our questions
- Ronnie, Emmanuel and Benjamin for their enthusiast support and precious advise
- The Techtransalp team for their excellent website and advertising our adventure

Niccolo:
- clearly Manon as she has always been supportive of this trip even though this means 3 months without me
- My mother for not giving up on me, for receiving all the parcels at home in Austria and for not freaking out!
- Amy and Steve for pushing over several months to keep focus on the organisation
- Xavier, for trusting me to be in France in June and be his best man at his wedding
- Cyril, for posting our tracks on the blog
- Louis, for looking into getting Continental to sponsor us
- Romain, for getting us the Turkmen visas
- My friends for all telling me "DO IT"!
- Claudio von Planta, Sambor and Maciej for sharing their great experiences on their numerous motorbike trips
- Henry, Yau and Tan from BMW HK for their support with the bike, the preparation and the bike sale
- Yasser, Mark, Michael and Christoph from BMW Munich for their help with all the accessories and the last minute bike purchase
- Bertrand and Alice for your help with the tyres in Almaty